In his new book, “Basketball Beyond Borders: The Globalization of The NBA,’ Chris Milholen looks at the role Drazen Petrovic played in making the league international. This is an excerpt.
Twenty-seven years ago Sunday, Drazen Petrovic was tragically killed in a car accident in Denkendorf, Germany while traveling to Berlin to play for Croatia in a qualification tournament for the 1993 EuroBasket.
Following the tournament, Petrovic decided to drive back to Croatia with his new girlfriend, Klara Szalantzy, and her friend Hilal Edebal, rather than fly with the team back to Zagreb. At the time, Petrovic was registered to board the plane and fly back with the team. When the flight attendant announced that the plane was missing one passenger, Aleksander Petrovic, Drazen’s older brother, and the assistant coach of the team, informed the attendants that one missing passenger was Drazen Petrovic and he made other arrangements. That night, it was thunderstorm and raining hard.
On the road, Szalantzy was driving a small red Volkswagen Golf car and the three were driving for hours on the Autobahn 9. While she was behind the wheel, Petrovic was sleeping in the passenger’s seat next to her.
Shortly after 5:20 p.m. central European time on June 7, 1993, a truck from the Netherlands swerved on the wet highway road, avoiding another car that cut in front of him and was heading off the road. The truck barreled its way through the median that separated the northbound and southbound lanes and was now in the middle of three southbound lanes. The truck was stopped, spread across all three lanes and the driver was waiving down oncoming cars to slow down. On the autobahn, there are very few speed limits located in certain sections of the highway. According to Edebal, Szalantzy was driving way too fast at the time.
“Going way too fast,” Edebal said. “In Germany, there are some speed limits, but in short places. But, on the autobahn, you can go as fast as a car goes.”
According to the accident report, Szalantzy was driving the small red Volkswagen Golf at 180 kilometers per hour, which translates to 112 miles per hour on a very wet autobahn.
When Szalantzy saw the truck in front of her, she lost control of the Volkswagen Golf and the car slammed into the guardrail and slid into the truck with high impact. She had enough time to reach and turned away with seconds to spare, saving her own life. Edebal, who was in the backseat, was thrown to the front seat, suffering serious injuries to her brain and breaking her arm and right hip. Despite suffering the serious injuries, she survived. For Szalantzy, she spent the week in the hospital and was released. She did not reveal her injuries.
The Volkswagen Golf was left pushed into the right side of the truck and both front doors were forcefully pushed open. When rescue workers arrived on the scene of the crash, they immediately noticed two women showing signs of life and the ambulances quickly rushed them to the nearest hospital, which was the Hospital of Eichstatt.
The remaining person, Petrovic, was still at the crash scene being attended to by rescue workers and fire rescue workers. At the time of the crash, he was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown in the direction of the truck, causing him to receive deadly head trauma.
According to the accident report, Petrovic died on impact. The rescue workers noticed that he was wearing a gold watch, which stopped at the exact time of the accident: 5:20. The rescue workers desperately attempted to revive Petrovic, but their efforts were not successful due to the severity of the head trauma he suffered from the crash. Petrovic was only 28 years old when he passed.
Hours following the fatal crash, the Croatian national team received the news of their captain being killed in a car accident. The following morning, Tuesday, June 8, the New Jersey Nets held a press conference at the Meadowlands Arena. The press conference room was ‘pin drop’ quiet. Willis Reed, the Nets general manager at the time, spoke first, reading a pre-written statement.